In the wake of widely covered opposition protests against the Venezuelan government's decision not to renew Radio Caracas Televison's (RCTV) broadcasting licence following its countless violations of the law and its role in the 2002 coup attempt against the democratically elected government, Green Left Weekly's Sam King spoke with lawyer and writer Eva Golinger in Caracas. Golinger is the author of The Chavez Code and Bush Versus Chavez, which expose US intervention into Venezuela aiming to overthrow Chavez.
@question = What evidence is there to support the view that the student-led mobilisations in support of RCTV are part of a broader destabilisation plan aimed at overthrowing the government of President Hugo Chavez, and are linked to hostile political forces based in the US?
A lot of evidence. One angle is if you look at who are the people protesting. Everyone has the right to protest, but all of a sudden the wealthier upper-class and upper middle-class students from primarily private universities take to the streets to defend an issue that has been at the forefront of the opposition movement of the traditional politicians. All of a sudden, here they appear out of nowhere and they're carrying the same agenda and the same political discourse, even though they are trying to disguise it as not being political. Any march in the street is political. Any claiming or demanding of rights is a political action.
They are repeating a discourse the traditional opposition has been using here and they're doing it in a way that is not even fully formed. It's a contradiction in itself to say "no, no we're not being political" and then crying out for freedom of expression, liberty and things like that in a country that has more freedom of expression than probably most countries in the world, and certainly under this government more than this country has ever had before. Unfortunately they're being used as mouthpieces for an opposition that's been using that discourse over the past seven years, despite the fact that they're the ones who ruled the country before.
I was looking at the 1992-93 annual report from a Venezuelan human rights group Provea when Antonia Ledezma, who is one of the opposition spokespeople today, was the governor of Caracas. He had actually prohibited all student protests in the street for that entire year. This just shows the hypocrisy, contradictions and double discourse. [The student protest campaign] is part of what has been going on for the last five, six years ... different attempts and different ways to destabilise the country, leading to the overthrow of Chavez.
We know that is the final objective because they tried it already during the coup in April 2002, then later the economic sabotage at the end of that year when they specifically said the goal was to force Chavez to resign or to overthrow Chavez. Also the [unsuccessful August 2004 presidential] recall referendum ... It is apparent that [this is] a student movement that was not born naturally from the ranks of students.
From my own investigations, looking at documents that I have obtained over the last four years using the Freedom of Information Act in the US, looking at [information] that I got a year or two ago from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which is a funding entity of the US State Department, there were a series of contracts or grants to different student organisations, private universities and other entities ...
There were six grants from USAID that showed the US government had been funding efforts to have training seminars and formation seminars for student leaders with the objective being — and this is what the documents were saying — to reinsert universities and student activism back into political life in Venezuela. It used to be before Chavez [came to power in 1998 that] students were always the vanguard, as they are in most countries, of movements to push social changes. The difference is now we have a revolutionary government where many of those student leaders are now the ones in power — so even though there are movements within the universities, they have not played a role in fighting against the state because now they are the state. It's the reverse situation.
One of these grants was for 90 million bolivars (A$50,000). That's a lot of money for a series of seminars at the UCV. This was a joint venture with this strange organisation called Foundation for Educating the Country, the UCV student federation that is headed by this opposition student Stalin Gonzalez and the [student federation] from University of the Andes, which is headed by a student who is now a fugitive — Nixon Moreno.
They're involved in this grant that is for forming student leaders, to reinsert them back into political life in Venezuela so that students can help define the direction the country is taking, and now we are seeing that manifest. The grants that were given, the funding, training programs, all kinds of things [form a] relationship with the US starting from a couple of years ago.
On top of that, some of the same groups or individuals have participated since 2004 in training sessions with other US entities such as the Albert Einstein Institute and the International Centre on Non-Violent Conflict. These are the entities that were responsible for helping to promote, fund and advise the "coloured" revolutions in Eastern Europe [in the] Ukraine, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Georgia. They failed in Belarus and they began working here in April 2003, first with traditional opposition leaders and then, as in those movements in Eastern Europe, they used young people — students.
Even though the US government likes to talk about Venezuela and Chavez as a dictatorship, it is not. While those strategies may have worked in countries where there were governments that were maybe more authoritarian and that had also been run down by bombing campaigns of the US government [such as Serbia] ... Here there are totally different circumstances. They tried to apply the same tactics and the evidence is quite clear. The documents from those organisations themselves, their annual reports, talk about how they worked to help form the Venezuelan opposition.
Then this movement manifested in support or in defence of a media corporation — not even anything to do with freedom of speech but corporate rights, which is bizarre for students to be out on the streets defending the rights, non-existent rights, of a corporation! It goes against the entire anti-globalisation movement around the world that the student movement here in Venezuela is actually promoting corporate rights. They are using the same symbols and actions and strategies that were used by other groups that were trained and formed by the Albert Einstein Institute and the International Center on Non-Violent Conflict, so I think there is a lot of different evidence that shows there is a US tie, certainly financially [and] more so in providing strategic advice.
Very unfortunately I think for students and for student movements, a lot of the students said "no, no we are not being manipulated, we are out here because this is what we believe in" and I believe that, but ... when the coup took place in April 2002 there were about 1 million people on the streets for the opposition and I don't think that million knew that a conspiracy had already been planned and set up to be executed that day using them. I think a lot of people were in the streets because they were protesting against the Chavez government, but they were used to execute a coup.
I think we have a similar situation here. Yes there are a lot of students who are voluntarily in that movement, they have been brought up with those values, they mainly come from middle and upper classes, that's what they believe in. They don't know the history of the country and how things were before because their parents were part of the ruling classes and so didn't teach them that part of it. However there is a smaller group connected with international interests and with the traditional political and economic elite here in the country that has a plan and is using the rest of them to try and execute it.
@question = The opposition student leaders declined the opportunity to debate the RCTV issue in the National Assembly on June 7, at the same time as trying to present themselves as non-political and for peace. Do you think this represented a retreat from the original intentions of the movement?
That was very strange. I think that they possibly got nervous and thought that they had to find a way out of that situation. And if they were to have a debate in that setting, they would certainly not come out in a positive way ... I don't think any country in the world has ever offered to students ... an entire day, with no time limit to speak before the congress ... and transmitted it live on television on every channel around the country. It certainly surprised me that they were given that opportunity, and the fact that they didn't take advantage of it shows that their discourse is empty, that it is a manipulated movement, unfortunately because I think that it tars the other student movements, the ones that are more genuine and sincere.
[They also tried] to make a circus out of the National Assembly and that whole scenario. [They were] reading fabricated speeches — a speech that had been written by a publicity company — and then taking shirts off, things ... that you do in a show to draw attention to yourself, so it became very clear there was no profound meaning in what they were saying.
@question = It seems that what remains of that student movement now has dropped the issue of RCTV and is focused more on defending the autonomy of the prestigious universities. Has it lost the battle for RCTV and now moved into a new defensive battle?
If there was a battle it was lost from the beginning because the only way they saw that they could win the battle is if RCTV was given a concession again to operate on the public airwaves and that is not going to happen. I think they actually thought — not the students, the opposition leaders, [RCTV owner and multi-millionaire] Marcel Granier, those directing RCTV — that the government was going to retract its decision, because of international pressure. But in the end the international pressure was only coming from the US, and Venezuela has had international pressure coming from the US for the past five years — it's used to it, so it didn't do anything. I think they [the opposition leaders] were kind of shocked. Even though they will continue to find ways to promote their agenda, that is definitely a lost battle.
Anyone who looks at it in a dry legal way sees that there is no issue — like the Organisation of American States did. Its secretary general said "that's an administrative matter in the country, it has nothing to do with freedom of expression" and that's true. You can make a scene about anything you want but in the end the government did not violate absolutely anything.
The issue of universities is kind of ridiculous because this is a government that has created more autonomy for universities than ever before. It has created more in the sense of providing more funding, opening more universities, providing more access to education, providing more alternative education in the sense that it is not following traditional state structures of rigid or very limited operating structures in the universities. We've got universities that are in the communities, all kinds such as the Bolivarian University ... So I think that issue [is lost].
@question = Has the opposition had to abandon any serious attempts to destabilise the political situation in the immediate future?
Yes and no. They have a big march planned for the 27th [of June], which is International Journalists' Day. Whenever they try to plan these marches, there is always the moment of concern that there could be further aggression, especially because at that point the America Cup [football competition] will have started. That provides them with another scenario to try and make a scene, and there is a lot of concern that extremist groups might try to use terrorism or some kind of violence against the America Cup so that again the international community would want to get involved.
It's a very strange objective for a student movement or any movement to try to encourage international intervention. Not only is that a betrayal of your country but it is incredibly dangerous, especially when you are trying to encourage the international intervention from the United States, with a warmongering government that would love to come in here and take over everything, especially the oil industry, and militarise the entire country. I think that a lot of people don't understand — they think that US intervention means more McDonald's and restaurants and shops, or something like that. I don't understand why anyone would be calling for that. It's outrageous. The danger still exists certainly.
More at the forefront is the possibility of an assassination attempt against the president. As ridiculous as that may sound, not only has it been used in the past against other foreign leaders, but here it almost seems to be the only way out. Chavez just keeps winning, keeps getting more support, more people are with [the revolution], the country is improving, things are getting better, regionally people are integrating with Venezuela. Around the world people are starting to pay attention to Venezuela and they're interested in what is happening. Every attempt to defeat Chavez and the revolution is stopped and Chavez comes out stronger and the revolution comes out stronger, the people come out more conscious.
We are denouncing things here that have never been talked about, even though they exist in other countries. On a public level, this puts the US in a really difficult position. They always do this sort of risk-benefit analysis. If they do assassinate Chavez what would happen? Would there really be a reaction around the world? ... People would be up in arms, but would there be any sort of a unified reaction that could somehow harm the US? It's probably not likely. What could countries do? Cripple the US economy? Militarily damage the US? No. So the other issue is what would happen in Venezuela? It would go into civil war. Does the US care? They care about the oil so what would they do? They would militarise [the country] just like they have done in Iraq.
@question = The US would care what the outcome is. They would be thinking, who is going to win a civil war?
Look what they have done in Iraq. The same thing happened in Iraq and now Iraq is in a civil war and [the US is] controlling pretty much the oil industry there — but it is a constant risk situation. As different as Venezuela and Iraq are, I think that is almost the study of what would happen here. So I think [assassination is] a very likely scenario that Chavez talks about all the time and the government is constantly investigating and taking security measures to prevent it.
@question = Chavez talks about assassination attempts all the time?
Sure, because it's true. One, it's true that [the Venezuelan government has] stopped a few of them, found evidence and things like that. Also because the more that you talk about it the less likely that it will happen. The more people who are aware, the more people who are consciously considering what would happen, what we would do, how we would react, and therefore preparing for that kind of scenario, which makes it more difficult because then it would be obvious if anything happened to Chavez what the source was.